The Saudi-funded golf league is off to something of a tortured start. With the league’s first tournament teeing off Thursday in London, some of the pros who decided to take absolutely mind-blowing amounts of money, from a repressive and murderous regime that’s deeply invested in rehabbing its global image through sports, got asked some questions. Let’s see how that went.
Calling the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi “reprehensible” is the closest any of the golfers participating in the league have come to criticizing the Saudi regime. Beyond that, the golfers who spoke today fell back on platitudes and cliches about how golf can be a force for good when pressed to explain their participation. When AP reporter Rob Harris followed up to ask Graham McDowell how the sovereign wealth-funded series will help those who have been killed and oppressed by the Saudi state, McDowell begged off, saying he wished he “had the ability to have that conversation” but that they were here to “focus on the golf.” (As bad as that answer was, McDowell was one-upped by Ari Fleischer. Yes, he’s involved in this.)
The pros, including McDowell and other major winners Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen, generally justified their participation in the league on the basis of doing what’s best for their family. They talked about how participating in this league would allow them more time to spend with their families and pursue other interests outside of golf, which is just another way of saying that they couldn’t say no to what is surely a ridiculous payday.
It’s funny how families often get invoked in situations such as these in order to deflect criticism. The maneuver is effective on its surface, as nobody would argue that someone should do the wrong thing for their family, but it also undermines the very point it seeks to make. When someone like Johnson, who was most forceful in his position that he is doing what is best for his family, starts talking this way, he is presenting the well-being of his family unit as private, and existing totally separate and apart from the concerns and well-being of everyone else. This is the same viewpoint adopted by people who refuse to get vaccinated because “it’s what’s best for their family,” or oppose permanent affordable housing development in order to “protect their family,” or fight against equitable school redistricting because they “just want what’s best for their kid.” These are not private concerns, but inherently public ones that have all sorts of effects outside of the family unit, which constantly acts on and interacts with the rest of the world. To acknowledge such a thing is inconvenient for golfers who’d rather not answer questions about how the interests of their families are being leveraged to sportswash a regime that executed 81 people in a single day a few months ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said the tournament started Friday. It starts Thursday.